Friday, December 30, 2011

The Tiahuanaco Mystery

  Is Tiahuanaco the oldest city in the world?  

 The temple at Tiahuanaco is an engineering marvel.  I doubt that many structures made in America will prove to be as durable. 

    I first  became interested in Tiahuanaco because of a TV show on Discover Network by rengegade historian Graham Hancock.  Hancock suggests  that ancient humans developed a very advanced civilization which collapsed due to climate change around 10,500 BC, which happens to be about the end of the Ice Age (and also one of the dates preferred by quack mentalist Edgar Cayce).  
     Hancock has had his share  of screwball ideas over the years.  Namely, that intelligent beings created a face on Mars to tanatalize Earth people with; and that Atlantis might have been located on Antarctica (despite the fact that we know darn well that the ice sheet is millions of years old).
     But irrespective of Hancock's failure to pass basic sanity checks, Tiahuanaco is a fascinating place.  It is incredibly intricate, with astonishingly well constructed blocks of stone.  the entire place   The building is aligned with the summer solstice, and various theorists have suggested that the solstice alignment is a better match to the position of the solstice as it was several thousand years ago.  However, most conventional historians date the site to a few hundred years after the birth of Christ. 
 Kalasasaya Temple at Tiahunaco. 

Gateway to the Sun.

  Mostly, the fringe historians including Hancock have asserted (without a lot of proof, as far as I can see) that there is a better match of the alignment of the temple to a date of 15,000 to 10,000 years ago, but I am not aware of numbers that prove that that is true. 
    Arthur Posnansky made this argument in Tiahuanaco: The Cradle of American Man (1945). He claimed that the alignment of Kalasasaya was consistent with the earth's alignment in 15,000 B.C.E. 
      The temple, moreover, was claimed to be based on the Temple of Karnak, in Egypt.
     The stones at Tiahuanaco are fitted and joined with similar construction methods used by the ancient Egyptians.  
   Another amazing coincidence is that surgeons in Tiahuanaco used the same technique as their counterparts in Egypt for performing a form of skull surgery know as trepanning, in which holes were made in the skull, probably to allow evil spirits to be evicted. They used similar tools for these operations. It's not that this surgery was so effective, but it seems hard to believe that two societies could develop such idiosyncratic medicine unless they were connected. 
     Though not an archeologist, I don't know how much importance should be attached to a single way to date the site.  Hancock is fascinated about the use of radiocarbon dating, but unfortunately this is best used to date organic carbon, because the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 is different in the atmosphere and for living organisms, whereas underground the ratio is different.  But for inorganic rock, I don't see how this method is all that useful. 
      Hence, I would be inclined to put away the argument about the dating of the site, at least for the time being.  Perhaps a better question is whether there are connections between ancient civilizations on the other side of the Atlantic?  When I was in college, it was considered absolutely foolish to believe that any Europeans set foot in North America prior to the Vikings in the 11th century.  But the fringe historians have gotten some traction on this point, as archeological evidence is starting to suggest that common technologies were used in North America and Spain thousands of years before the Vikings.  

      The Clovis civilization (named after an archeological site near Clovis New Mexico) was until recently thought to be the oldest human civilization in North America.  It appeared some 10,000 years ago, or roughly the time of the ending of the last Ice Age.  The theory was that people came from Asia, across a land bridge that connected Siberia and Alaska.  Said land bridge no longer exists (I guess they had Climate Change in prehistory, too).   

     Nowadays, however, archeologists have identified sites in North America that are thousands of years older than the Clovis civilization.  In addition, tools found at pre-Clovis sites are similar to tools made in France and Spain some 20,000 years ago. In addition, construction techniques used at Tiahuanaco were also used in Egypt.  This includes the method of joining stones.

   At Tiahuanaco, I-shaped copper clamps were used to joing stone blocks.  The same technique was used by the Egyptians and the Greeks.  


Molten metal was poured into these depressions in order to form metal clamps that held monolithic blocks together.  On the left is an example from Egypt, and on the right is an example from South America.  It's very tough to imagine this technology emerged independently at both locations.  See for a discussion of similarities between South American stonemasonry and that of the Egyptians and Greeks.  

   Our stone age ancestors did not know how to read and write, but that does not mean that they were dumb. Anatomically modern humans have been around for many thousands of years, so there is not an inherent reason why societies might have risen and fallen several times before our own civilization finally took hold (I guess--sometimes when I pick up a newspaper I have my doubts).   
   In particular, our ancestors may have been excellent navigators and masons.  In a future blog, I will address how stone age navigators might have been able to carry out trans-oceanic voyages.  There are some low-tech methods that I believe might have been overlooked by mainstream historians. 

1 comment:

  1. i really enjoyed your blog on this topic. I started on on this site a couple of weeks ago...maybe we can exchange information or ideas? i know we aren't archaeologists, but i feel like some dots are being connected as i slowly dig for credible info. If interested, my blog is Thanks again for the great read!